MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- An 18-year-old man charged in a shooting at the Mall of America that injured two on New Year's Eve purchased the firearm online, according to a criminal complaint, a so-called "ghost gun" that was not purchased by a federally licensed dealer and lacks a serial number, therefore making it untraceable.
Charging documents say the alleged gunman had a Polymer 80 9mm handgun with him when he was taken into custody and he admitted that he bought the gun on the internet. Polymer 80 is a company that sells parts and accessories, including pistol frame kits.
Purchasing such kits and assembling a weapon is known as a privately made firearm, or a so-called "ghost gun." They don't have a serial number on them like those bought at a federally-licensed dealer, and no background check is required. Federal firearms licensees are also required to keep records on firearms transactions for 20 years.
Jonathan Ortiz, assistant special agent in charge for the St. Paul division for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said these untraceable weapons are connected to violent crime across the country, but the local office hasn't come across as many in the Twin Cities or Minnesota.
He underscored that while ghost guns are generally legal under federal law for personal use with some limitations, when used illegally to commit crimes the same laws still apply.
"A privately made firearm is a completely legal item. We don't regulate citizens making firearms for their own reasons," said Ortiz. "What's illegal is to use that firearm or any other firearm in violent crime. That's when we step in."
Law enforcement officials say firearms without serial numbers can create roadblocks in investigations. Those numbers provide a lead, a way to trace where the weapon came from and who used it.
"It gives us a starting point in our investigation and tells a bit of a back story," said Josh Seifert, a detective with the Bloomington Police Department who has also been a firearms instructor for 18 years.
That the gun used in the Mall of America shooting had no serial number attached to it didn't hinder the department's investigation, Seifert said. Hee and other officers worry less about tracking the guns and more about individuals who can't lawfully posess a weapon, but can obtain one anyway by assembling it on their own.
"People who are ineligible to own or possess firearms can go online and buy one of these build kits," he said. "And if they're willing to do a little bit of the work, the final assembly will have a perfectly functioning firearm when in fact if they tried to buy it through legitimate means would be ineligible or disqualified."
Ten states have laws restricting use of the so-called ghost guns, according to the Giffords Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence, an organization led by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in the head during an event with constituents in 2011.
Minnesota does not have any law putting limits on untraceable guns, according to the group.
It is illegal to manufacture and sell firearms without a license.
President Joe Biden and his Justice Department have proposed rule changes governing privately made firearms.
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